feb 22. made it.
i left yesterday morning, very early, to board a UN plane at the domestic airport. i was told to pay attention to the shouted arabic boarding announcements because worthier souls than I had been left behind holding 15 kg of carefully chosen luggage.
the luggage restriction proved not to be a problem. while I checked in my essential bag, I asked my driver to stand behind me and hold my equally heavy second bag which was never weighed. I had a small fleeting fear that the undeclared kilos might send us hurtling towards the ground in a thin metal airplane shell, gasless, just because I wanted to haul Ulysses around the world for the fifth time. still, we made it. my copy of Ulysses now sits proudly on the window sill of my tukul, fully confident that it will leave it as it came, its spine strong and unbroken.
there were six passengers in a plane that held twelve. as we left
Khartoum, and banked sharply over the turbid water where the blue and
white niles meet, the airport looked like a UN parking lot. so too El Obeid airport where we stopped to refuel. I am told that the MSF mission in Sudan is the most expensive in the world. I suspect the same is true of the UN.
the landscape from the sky was austere and beautiful. the earth was
flat and red and cracked. i could follow the paths of rivers only by the stubborn trees still clinging to dry banks. it seemed they were living only on the memory of the energy that once flowed to them. bits of nitrogen from dead grass, or bugs, or dropped seeds. their persistence was admirable because again, the sky was only blue and clear. I saw one small embarrassed cloud on the horizon, but it didn’t stay long.
I had the distinct pleasure of sitting and talking with a Sudanese woman
who was visiting abyei to talk to the community about how it might, one
day, own its own resources. she was born in sudan but spent many years in Saskatchewan. we laughed about coincidences; not only we were Canadians, but prairie folks. She returned to Khartoum in 2003, with her 10 year old daughter. “either you will love sudan, or you will hate it. it is a difficult place to love. but I do.” when I asked why she came back, why she left Canada for she loved her life there too, she answered “…in my heart, I am a nomad.”
[More Info : Plus des renseignements sur Soudan par MSF Suisse - en français seulement!]
we talked about sudan, and about peace, and about living. when we had finished, when neither of us had any more to say, I turned to look at the red ground below. as I watched it pass, criss crossed with dry rivers and camel paths, I had a moment of realization where I recognized that my understanding of the world I live in went up by an exponent. she helped me distill a complicated crisis in a complex country into a story. it was like crystallization of a super saturated solution. I want to talk more of it later, but have neither the space nor the time.
the rest of the flight was silent. abyei snuck up beneath me with no warning. then it was gone. “ I think we missed the landing strip”, a passenger said. “I think they were checking it for cows”, I answered. it turns out we were both wrong. it was goats.
a dirty, dusty, rumbling landing, and I was there. here. for those who don’t know exactly where abyei, sudan is, I will draw a map. the X marks it.
right in the middle.
I will spend some more time later talking about my hut, its 5 x 5 metre cement walls and its straw roof, how it captures heat so well, and… actually, I don’t think I will spend any more time on it. that’s pretty much it.
I will talk more about the hospital, because I just finished my first day. I am getting handover from the departing doctor, amina. she is excellent. my last question to her today is “is everyone always this sick?”.
she has left for the hospital again. the last patient she and I saw, a
child, is not breathing well. his oxygen saturation is 50%. if there was a hospital we could send him to, to put him on a ventilator, we would. the nearest is 3 hours away and the roads are not safe at night. she is one of three patients I saw today who would have been cared for in an intensive care unit in Canada.
but, more about that later. and about the team here, and how they seem the best kind of people. and how it´s so dry that one doesn´t need to towel off, he just needs to wait 30 seconds. and of ali, the sudanese doctor, who i like already, and how he takes pictures of the moon.
and more about abyei, the town. its braying goddamn middle of the night donkeys and barking middle of the night damn dogs. its lovely people,
and dustdustdust. and, importantly, how despite its innocent shy surface, it offers us the best lens to look at the prospect of peace in sudan. it’s a supersaturated solution. but, I guess that’s one of the reasons msf is here. it’s sure not the middle of the night damn dogs.
p.s. the subject heading is an excellent book by a white zimbabwean about the war she lived through. bracing, and beautiful in equal turns. read it if you can.
[More Info: the book that James mentions is a personal memoir by Alexandra Fuller who grew up during the Rhodesian Civil War, and post-colonial Zimbabwe. Fuller went on to study at Acadia U in NovaScotia. The book is called "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight : An African Childhood" and is available through commercial and online book retailers]